The Perfect Fairytale

Mike Kewley Blog Post

What in this moment is lacking?

-Rinzai

One of the best ways to avoid our present moment experience is by refusing to engage with it until it’s perfect. Many of us begin our mindfulness practice with the romantic idea that we can escape the messiness of our lives by diving into an ocean of pristine calm, and unwavering focus. And that may be the case, but when we open our eyes again, the mess is still there, patiently waiting for us.

Actually our mindfulness journey relaxes and releases our ideas of perfection and imperfection, allowing us to be fully available to our present moment experience, however it is.

But until we begin the practice of waking up we generally practice staying asleep and for most of us this means walking around, telling ourselves old and repetitive stories which we soak up as if they were objective truths.

I can’t (or won’t) be happy until it’s perfect” we tell ourselves, reinforcing our habit to put life on pause until it matches our own imagined scenarios. But here we trap ourselves in a double-bind: We refuse to be happy until we achieve our perfection, and yet – in reality – our idea of perfection cannot be achieved.

Perfection is just another story which takes us away from the present moment, and if being happy relies on making everything just right, then we will always be unhappy simply because nothing will still just right for very long.

Our lives are driven by the desire to be the perfect person, husband, wife, parent, meditator or enlightened being. This addiction to perfection is also played out in society too as religions and political parties broadcast their own versions of how things should be, rarely paying attention to how they actually are.

In short, chasing perfection generates suffering. Why? Because it creates friction. It grates against how things really are. And how are things? How is this moment really? Well, it’s just this isn’t it? Plain and simple this.

There is a Zen story in which a young novice monk is asked to sweep up the leaves in the monastery courtyard. Although it’s hard work, he makes sure he has swept up every last leaf when his Master returns to survey the scene. “It’s perfect!” announces the novice, proud of his good work. In reply the Master walks over to a nearby tree and shakes it hard, creating a rain of new leaves which scatter all over the courtyard. “Now it’s perfect!” he responds.

This parable asks us to appreciate that our own ideas of perfection are actually small and limiting, compared to the greater movement and rhythm of life. By shaking the tree the Master shows the novice thatperfection cannot last for long, because ultimately nothing lasts. So achieving our limited versions of perfection is not the goal, the  real goal is to see each moment as perfection itself.

When we are unopposed to this moment, it is perfection, just as it is. When we cease telling stories about this moment, it lacks nothing and lacking nothing, it is perfect. When we cease telling stories about ourselves, we lack nothing and lacking nothing, we are perfect.

Another Zen story reflects this:

Banzan was walking through a market when he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer. “Give me the best piece of meat you have,” said the customer. “Everything in my shop is the best,” replied the butcher. “You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best.” At these words Banzan became enlightened.

Everything is the best. Every thing is the best. Every moment is the best.

It’s the best because this moment is the only moment. It is the only moment in existence right now and if there is only this moment, then what will we compare it too? What will we judge it against? Can we find another moment in this moment?

No, there is just this, this precious moment, this holy moment, appearing here and now in all of its glorious ordinariness. This moment is not a stepping stone to some ideal future, it is truth, divinity and enlightenment, naked for all to see.

This moment is nothing less than the face of god.

So if the best way to avoid our raw experience is to strive for a personal ideal of perfection, then the best way to find freedom is to drop our ideals and dive fully into this moment, stripped of past and future.

Life is ready to swallow us whole.

“A single brown fallen leaf on a dark background of tarmac”